National Archives sign at Kew Gardens Station

National Archives sign at Kew Gardens Station


Martin Knelman claims Canadian audio-visual heritage at risk, but is it true?

Noted Canadian film critic Martin Knelman published in his column for on February 15, 02010 a piece titled "Audio-visual heritage of nation at risk".

He's responding in part to a devastating fire at CTV's Ottawa studio on February 7, 02010 that resulted in the loss of many broadcast recordings. He also put in an extended plug for the Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation, an organization founded in 2001 with the goal of creating a Canadian museum of broadcasting history. Knelman erroneously concluded that "The priceless legacy of our national history, as recorded over the past 80 years in our electronic media, is slipping away." He also referred to the CBC having "purged its shelves of outtakes that likely included material of historic value," while "In Victoria, a private station [CHEK-TV] discovered that news footage compiled from 1956 to 1998 had deteriorated beyond repair because of faulty storage conditions."

Outtakes are outtakes for a reason. They are expensive to maintain and preserve and, unless converted into a format suitable for public access, will have little or no use. One reason, however, why an archives acquires outtakes is because other kinds of motion picture elements from a production may not exist.

Knelman disparages Canada's financial commitment to preserving its audio-visual heritage and sums it up ONLY in terms of the Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation's contribution:

In Canada, with minimal funding from a number of industry and government partners, the broadcasting foundation has articulated the mandate, developed a coalition and built a collection of 16,000 broadcast artifacts. But the required great leap forward can't occur until the deposit of all material at a central agency (comparable to the U.S. Library of Congress) becomes mandatory for all broadcasters. And then a substantial annual budget would be needed to build and maintain an archive.

Supporters of the broadcast museum might wonder why a human rights museum in Manitoba got funded and not a museum with a more direct link to Canada's heritage. I would also argue that Canada's broadcast heritage has been remarkably well preserved at both the provincial and national level thanks to the diligence and on-going efforts of archivists and museum curators. What is remarkable to me about Knelman's opinion piece is the great disservice it does to the archival and museum communities, since he says not one word about them or the great audio-visual broadcast treasures they have been preserving for at least the past quarter-century. Ironcially, a small part of CHEK-TV's motion picture film news footage from the period of loss is preserved by the BC Archives (CHEK TV fonds).

The Library and Archives Canada is the repository of record for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but in recent years the CBC also began digitizing and mounting some of its own audio, film and video recordings at its CBC Digital Archives. The BC Archives once held a large body of films from CBC Vancouver, but returned those at the request of the CBC. The BC Archives still preserves hundreds if not thousands of hours of CBC and private broadcaster recordings, including off-air recordings created by private individuals. I am fairly certain other provincial archives have similar holdings.

I'm not saying that more can't be done to ensure Canada's important broadcast history remains largely intact, but let's not ignore as Knelman has the extraordinary accomplishments of Canadian archives and museums prior to and continuing in parallel with the Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation's work.

1 comment:

  1. [...] AABC Newsletter article about my retirement You can read a nice little summation of my career at the BC Archives written by my former colleague Ann ten Cate in the AABC Newsletter (Winter 2010; PDF file). The Newsletter also includes a post reprinted by permission from my Ten Thousand Year Blog, “Martin Knelman claims Canadian audio-visual heritage at risk, but is it true?“ [...]